A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

When "what's best for the kids" ISN'T.

Apparently our principal has been going to the movies lately, because she has been doing her best impersonation of Helena Bonham Carter (whom I already found icky) in her role as the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland.

With a preremptory wave of her hand, the Red Queen has declared that "doing what is best for the kids" means killing the AP program in our district and replacing it with college credit classes through local universities. The reason why is that "not every kid passes the AP exams."

Well, of course not. If every kid passed them, they wouldn't be considered to be valuable assessments. This is a concept that too many people who make their living talking about education seem to completely misunderstand.

First of all, our district has an open enrollment policy for AP classes, at least for the ones which I teach. I have one student now whom I have recommended to be moved to a regular class for 7 months now due to attendance issues, and yet there's his name on my roster-- next to a failing grade-- every single day. So if you are going to make passing the tests the criterion for determining a program's value, perhaps you should empower teachers to save students who are not excelling to be more appropriately placed.

Now in reality, I don't mind open enrollment. If a kid wants to take my class, I'm more than happy to let him or her try. I've had kids, classic underachievers, who earned Ds in my class and yet were still happy with the experience, and since they and their parents were satisfied, and I couldn't convince them to try harder, that was that. They said they enjoyed the discussion, or they wanted to be with their friends, or whatever, but I certainly didn't try to kick them out of my class in a short-sighted effort to boost test scores. The scores that my students earn are THEIRS, not mine. But to get back to this topic-- if you're suddenly going to make passing the national exams your measure of value, then we teachers should be able to weed out those who are weaker. Sounds like the law of the jungle, but there it is.

Furthermore, nationwide there are hundreds of thousands of kids who take AP tests and do not pass them. Is our very average high school supposed to somehow bust the curve-- and AP scores are curved to represent a certain score distribution each year, make no mistake about that-- just to justify the value of the AP program? Once again, though, here's reality: for the amount of work I am allowed to assign, and the average amount of dedication my students show when a few of them won't give up working 40 hours a week outside of school or whatnot, my students score nicely above the national average on the test in my subject area. However, "above the average" certainly doesn't mean "every kid passes." Yep, for the Red Queen, "better than most" is still not good enough. Gee, why does that sound familiar? Apparently, someone's been drinking the NCLB kool-aid.

Then there's the concept that every kid would pass college credit courses. Traditionally, students have passed college credit classes because.... now pay attention... they have certainly not been taught as college classes. They have not been taught up to college standards. Which is why they were at once both immensely popular with students and looked at askance by the colleges which these students eventually attend. College credits earned through these dual enrollment classes are not as transferable as one might imagine due to the wildly variant quality of standards that vary from high school to high school and from teacher to teacher. At our school, teachers teaching college credit classes were certainly ...encouraged... to keep the classes as easy as possible by administrators who don't want the parents screaming about their kid "being failed by Ms. Mean Teacher" even if they refuse to do the work or study.

Now, dual enrollment college credit classes are ENORMOUSLY popular with the universities that sponsor them. Why? Because the high school teachers teaching these classes are not compensated for being adjunct instructors through these programs. So that means we get to do all of the paperwork required of faculty at these institutions with the only compensation for this extra work and responsibility being the "respect" that the term "adjunct instructor" provides. And anyone in higher academe can tell you-- that would be less than zero. And yet, Local U will charge each one of my students $200 a semester for zero investment upon that university's part. They don't provide texts, they don't provide materials, the kids don't use the college facilities, and they don't compensate their servants-- I mean, their instructors. Now if those students go on to attend Local U, that school will miss out on the full tuition for those courses for which the students received credit-- but that actually doesn't happen as often as you might think. It's a cash cow! And I'm the one chewing the cud, as the teacher.

Yes, I am already an adjunct instructor. And 38% of my students last semester failed the elective course that I taught. Flat out refused to do the papers, but wouldn't drop the class either and would not come for help. Why? Because they were allowed to enroll even though they did not meet the minimum requirements of prior grade point average to take the class. One counselor baldly stated that she enrolled a student with a GPA of less than 1.0 in my class because she couldn't put him anywhere else. So if we're hoping for 100% of students to earn a credential of college credit, no matter how hollow or tarnished, this is not the way to do it.

So it has been decreed that we are going back to college credit without the solicitation of any faculty imput. Since these will probably be easier than the AP classes, our AP program will probably be knocked on the ropes. Kids still will not be learning as much as they should. And, on a personal note, since I am one of the few qualified to teach these classes, I will see the AP program that I have worked so hard to build up over all these years be gutted, and I will be rewarded with at least six different "preps" each year. And if I thought this would really be good for the kids, I wouldn't mind. No really-- I am more gung-ho than most when it comes to sacrificing for the good of the kids.

But, if I could actually get the attention of my redoubtable Queen, here's one last thing I would ask her to consider. Happy teachers do a better job than unhappy teachers. Teachers value strong leaders who support them more than pay increases. And with this, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" attitude, you are alienating the last group of people in the world that you should if you want to look successful in YOUR career. You may have heard of the results from the recent Gates Foundation survey of 40,000 educators-- of which I was one:
While higher salaries are important, teachers say they are less important than a supportive leader. Fewer than half of teachers (45%) say higher salaries are absolutely essential for retaining good teachers. More teachers say it is absolutely essential to have supportive leadership (68%), time to collaborate (54%), and quality curriculum (49%).

Right now, I'm batting 0 for 3 in that list of priorities.

To be blunt, the teachers who have worked the hardest for the students, and who have been the most flexible in issues of scheduling and providing opportunities for students, should be the LAST people whose lives you would make into a living hell. All for the sake of making it easier-- NOT better-- for the kids.

Off with our heads!!!!

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At 3/17/10, 7:50 PM, Blogger Kristie Walker said...

I've been lurking for several years, but rarely comment (sorry :-p). But I have to comment, because ohmigosh, I think you're teaching in OUR district!

Well, you're not, but we're doing the SAME thing. Our answer is to start a "virtual high school" for kids to take AP classes through. Because AP Chemistry or AP English works *so* well online. *growl*

This is, of course, the same district that decided that freshmen aren't capable of biology. So if a student wants to take an AP science class, they're forced to give up their elective (only a six-period day available, PE is required even for athletes) and double up on bio and chem, which to me is unthinkable for 75% of kids... even the bright ones. And then we get into forcing kids to drop their language or instrument... do we WANT these kids to be competitive for colleges?

Yet I got called on the carpet one year when, as an 8th grade teacher counseling kids on class options, I suggested that they plan on taking their foreign language at the local JC because the HS made it too damned difficult. I wasn't supposed to insinuate that the HS wouldn't be the best option for everyone, apparently.

I'm so tired of public education at the moment, and that makes me so ineffably sad.

At 3/18/10, 5:54 AM, Anonymous Chris Osborne said...

Hmm, getting rid of things that are too hard? I agree, let the teachers actually get rid of kids who obviously don't care about the test.

Or better yet, just don't have certain kids take the test.

Normally I think it's a load of crap when states don't report the scores for all students or select which students are allowed to take the test. It's a small reason why my state is at the bottom of education rankings.

But I'd full support it here. Nobody is forcing anyone to take AP classes. And there's already a precedent for taking the AP class but not the test. A lot of people in my high school did that because the district would only pay for 1 test per student per year.

At 3/18/10, 8:29 AM, Anonymous bev said...

I'd swear you teach in the district my kids attend. They're not looking at getting rid of AP, they're looking at getting rid of "honors" because like my teenager says "everyone else is doing it." The super did say in a meeting that other districts were getting rid of AP as well. So I bet that's next.

A parent complained that their regular courses were several grade levels below what they should be and that "honors" was district code for "grade level." Then one of our C and I folks said that we just have to train our teachers to differentiate instruction - like it was a new idea. I called them on that (this was an open meeting) and it became obvious that they needed another open meeting to convince parents that taking away advanced classes was somehow A Good Thing and we adjourned.

Our school district is entering it's centennial year. I say we put up a sign on the HS that says; "Lowering the bar for 100 years."

At 3/18/10, 10:51 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Interesting, bev-- I will say that when I was in school, the honors courses I took often had the Jeff Spicoli types as much as they had the Albert Einstein types, which meant there wasn't that much that was advanced in these supposedly accelerated courses.

Having taught for as long as I have, I have witnessed several spins on the wheel regarding "tracking." It's been decried as an elitist plot, and it's been lauded as the only way to keep kids engaged.

And as to "differentiating instruction," I'd like to know how successful the PTB think that can be when I have less than an hour per class period to cover all of the material with the wildly divergent ability levels of my students?

At 3/19/10, 12:18 PM, Blogger Lightly Seasoned said...

Considering how many teachers from your very district I sat in AP workshops with last summer, this seems like an abrupt decision.

In any case, AP and ACC can run concurrently. We've been doing it for years. The AP is generally a notch above ACC -- the Test, you know.

The free grad classes I get as an adjunct are nice when I take advantage of them. I use my adjunct status, though, because I'm sorta into the literary stuff. The students *do* get campus privs (library, gym, etc.). At least with one of the universities they do.

At 3/20/10, 3:33 PM, Blogger Leslie said...

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